A Boomer’s Guide: Exploring Greece on a Budget
As a retired boomer, affordable travel is more important than ever. Want to know how hubby and I traveled to Greece on a budget? What were our favorite places in this unique and fascinating country? When is the best time to visit Greece? How did we avoid the crowds?
Exploring Greece on a Budget
When I first started searching for a bargain, package deals that included airfare and hotels cost as much as $6,000 per person.
So, when I saw a deal on Travelzoo for $900 per person for a 7-day trip that included airfare from Los Angeles to Athens, from Athens to Santorini, from Santorini back to Athens, and then Athens to Los Angeles – and hotels with breakfasts included – I jumped on it, of course!
People are always asking me how I find affordable trips. I have one simple tip for you: Subscribe to Travelzoo‘s and Gate 1 Travel‘s newsletters. You’ll regularly receive lists of their discounted trips. We have found the best deals that way, including our trips to Africa and China.
By the way, we also pack two carry-on pieces of luggage each to avoid paying extra fees at the airport.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Greece?
If you want to travel to Greece on a budget; if at all possible, do not go in the summer when the weather is hot, crowds are insufferable, and prices are higher.
We went in October. The weather ranged from 70 to 80 degrees. Perfect. Greece always has tourists, but not as many people visit during this time of year. Experts generally recommend visiting Greece in April, May, or October.
If you visit during the off-season, prices will be significantly lower. According to Lonely Planet, rates and prices can fall by 25% or more.
Tour Athens for Less
From countless ancient sites to charming cobbled streets with sidewalk cafes, Athens is not to be missed. Surprisingly, visiting museums, ruins, historic sites, and other attractions is relatively inexpensive.
If you’re in good shape, many of the sites are within walking distance. If not, another affordable way to see the city is the hop-on hop-off double-decker red bus. Jump on for the day for 20 euros (which is about the same as our dollar at the time of this writing). Stops include the entrance to the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the ancient Olympic Stadium, the Merkouri and Plaka neighborhoods with restaurants and shops, and much more. You can also hire local taxi drivers using your Uber app, which is fairly inexpensive and can save you from parting with cash.
Tip: Make sure the credit card you plan to use does not charge extra foreign transaction fees. Also, buy euros through your bank at least 2-7 days before your trip. If you wait until after you leave, airport kiosks, hotels, and tourist centers are all generally more expensive places to change currency.
Although the Acropolis and the Parthenon can be admired from afar, I’d strongly suggest climbing the hill to see the ancient temples and buildings up close and enjoy the spectacular sweeping views of the city below. The marble steps and rocky terrain will be difficult for those with walking limitations; however, an elevator has been installed for those disabled that is accessible by wheelchairs.
Tip: Go early! We visited the Acropolis at 8 a.m. and there were just a few people in line. After hiking back down two hours later, the line was endlessly long.
Greek food is to die for and we were pleasantly surprised to find that many meals cost around 10 euros or less. Yum!
My favorite Greek dish? Definitely, Moussaka.
You can save money by walking a street or two away from popular tourist spots. You’ll likely find small restaurants or street food vendors selling souvlaki (grilled meat) sandwiches, falafel, gyros, and other delicious Greek treats for less.
Because we were visiting Greece on a budget, we loaded our plates during free breakfasts at our hotels and then had lunch/dinner midafternoon. That usually kept us full and satisfied.
Tip: Keep a piece of fruit or granola bar in your room in case you need a snack later.
Getting Around Santorini
Many tourists rented mopeds and ATVs in Santorini, which is a fairly inexpensive way to travel the island.
However, to be a bit more comfortable, we chose the smallest and most affordable rental car available. Believe me, you don’t want a big fancy car driving the chaotic, narrow streets on this small island anyway.
Our first morning was spent in Fira with its dramatic cliffs and whitewashed buildings. This was not my favorite part of the trip. Extremely overcrowded, parking was next to impossible to find and aggressive drivers – including tour buses – on narrow streets made driving stressful.
Although the views were beautiful from the top of the cliffs, we chose to ride the gondola to the bottom instead of tackling the 550-plus steps (which, if you’re up to it, is free and, I’m told, has fabulous views on the way).
If you don’t want to tackle all those steps, save your money and skip the gondola. With all the cruise ships coming in, we got stuck in line for an hour and a half trying to get back to the top. The small fishing village below was cute, but the views are better from the top.
Tip: From what I heard from other tourists, Mykonos is the most expensive island to visit, so steer clear if you want to explore Greece on a budget!
Beaches are Free!
Since our hotel was in Perissa (which cost much less than pricey rooms in Oia), we chilled at the nearby black sand beach with thatched umbrellas that served drinks and food if desired.
Supermarkets also sell cheap but yummy Greek cold beer and wine. You can enjoy sitting on the beach while savoring the same sunset as the people at the nearby pricier taverns.
The next day, we arose at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds in Oia, famous for its whitewashed buildings and blue domes built into the cliffs nestled against the deep blue sapphire Aegean Sea.
We were rewarded with a spectacular Santorini sunrise on our drive there. Absolutely free!
Tip: Go early! We were tempted to see Oia at sunset, but good luck trying to get a photo of the famous sites. A couple told us they came in the previous evening and could not move in the narrow passageways and were unable to get any photos. So, we arrived at Oia at 8 a.m., took our photos at iconic locations without any problem, had breakfast with a fabulous view, and strolled the charming village. By 10 a.m., the tour buses were arriving and the crowds were so thick, it was difficult to get around. Time to go!
That afternoon, we visited the Wine Museum in an underground cave. A museum all about wine? You know, I’m there! Lol. Yes, we were seeing Greece on a budget, but sometimes you have to splurge a little (20 euros each). We learned about the history of making wine on the island, the wine-making process, and enjoyed exhibits displaying old, rare machinery and tools. A wine tasting followed.
On our last day on the island, we visited Red Beach, so named for its volcanic rock. We were serenaded by a violinist at a lookout point, which was delightful.
On the drive back, we stopped at a restaurant with an unbelievable view for steamed muscles and beer. By the way, I’m not a big beer drinker at home, but Greek beer is amazing! Ended the day back at our beach.
Buy Souvenirs in Athens
One last tip: If you plan to buy gifts for yourself and loved ones at home, buy them in Athens. Souvenirs cost much more on the smaller islands.
I hope you have a chance to visit this spectacular country. Keep in mind, life is less expensive in Greece than in many other European countries. That makes traveling to Greece on a budget easier. If at all possible, take advantage and enjoy all the pleasures of life that Greece offers at affordable prices.